How did you learn to design clothes not having attended design school?

I just imitated what other designers were doing. I still don’t understand patterns. I first started by making cut and sews and knits. I asked new designers to teach me how to draw the design specifications. Having learnt that I didn’t need any patterns, I learned measurements by measuring the sizes of T-shirts made by other brands and creating a size I thought would work. I think I can find my first design specification somewhere but I can’t seem to find the design sketch of the skull. I remember asking a graphic designer to create a graphic for it but don’t remember much else (laugh). I didn’t have any money so I probably drew the sketch on the back of a piece of paper for disposal. I regret not taking better care of my sketches (laugh).

It seems you have done a lot of studying on your own.

True. I got to meet a lot of pattern makers so I was able to concentrate on designing. Sometimes they would look at my sketches and tell me that it was not possible to make it. Then I would tear the sketch into smaller pieces to restructure them and convince them that if they changed the process slightly the finished product would be possible (laugh). After much convincing most of the makers would give in and say, “I suppose it could be done this way.” I was always pretty good at designing from scratch without looking at plastic models or designs (laugh). When a resolution could not be found, I would gather everyone and talk about why I wanted to design the item in the first place and have them brainstorm with me. My daily experiences allowed for the brand to grow. I am still a beginner.

Have your designs changed since the launch of the brand?

I think my design tastes have not changed at all. My designs are slightly altered to meet the latest trends. I may make a sleeve wider in order to change the silhouette but the base of my designs does not change. I continued to design shorts even though they did not sell at all overseas. I went to Paris with shorts during winter as well (laugh).

When did the brand logo featuring the skull first appear?

I first used the skull logo in a mail-order service of smart Magazine which featured fashion brands that were not famous but interesting. I was persuaded when told that if I was featured in the magazine, at least 100 of my T-shirts would sell. The T-shirt I designed didn’t sell at all though (laugh). I am not sure if I sold even 10 (laugh). This was the very first time that I designed the skull T-shirt, during the start of my career as a designer.

When did the skull become an official logo?

I guess after the 3rd season in Paris. I always liked skull motifs and wanted to incorporate them in my designs somehow. I knew I had to create a skull which I thought was better in design compared with skulls featured in past designs by Yohji Yamamoto, UNDERCOVER and NUMBER (N)INE. I drew about 1,000 skull motifs by hand since I don’t own a computer. The funny thing is one difference in line could make the skull look angry or pretty. By the 4th season in Paris, the motif was pretty much the same style as it is now. I thought the skull was pretty handsome! Because it was a design I put so much dedication into, I wanted it to be a logo rather than a motif used for one or two seasons. The casual designs using the best materials were already becoming a hot topic in Paris but once the skull logo was added, the impression of the brand became even stronger. I got a lot of attention but the feedback was not all positive. Europe being religious, wasn’t too keen on the skull. When a Parisian TV studio came to see me for an interview, they saw the skull logo and told me they could never broadcast such a thing. About a year after that, H&M introduced designs featuring skull motifs and so after that it was ok (laugh).

The silk stadium jumper with embroidery of skull motifs is a rare item and a legend.

It began when I visited a long standing store in Yokosuka selling stadium jumpers. I told the store staff that I wanted to create an original stadium jumper. At first I used tigers, dragons and hawks as motifs instead of skulls. After Maxfield placed an order with us I decided on creating a silk stadium jumper with skull motif for the 2nd season. I chose silk because it was summer and too hot for cashmere. Putting embroidery on silk was not easy but after many tries, the store successfully created this for me. It was expensive to make though and we could only manufacture 5 jumpers. When this item was featured in magazines, I got a lot of reaction. Everyone was like, “200,000 yen for a stadium jumper!!!” (laugh).

When did you first introduce the stadium jumpers featuring tigers, dragons and hawks as motifs?

In 1998, all three appeared in my non-existent debut show at Tokyo Collection.

What do you mean by non-existent?

No one really knew who we were (laugh). Around 150 people crowded into a space designed for 100 people to see my show. Those who could not get in watched from visual monitors that were set up by the entrance of the venue. The second time around we rented a space for 250 people but then the space was practically empty. It was pouring with rain that day so it might have been due to the weather but I couldn’t help but notice the number of empty seats. For this show, we had asked actor Takumi Saitoh to participate in the show as a model. When I was looking for models in the city of Shibuya, I passed by him as I was on my way to the bathroom at PARCO. He was tall and very good looking and I greeted him on the spot.

Wasn’t your collection featured by any of the fashion magazines?

I don’t think so. I would have saved the articles if there had been any (laugh). The first time our collection was featured was probably in Momo, a magazine introducing indie brands. Most people have no idea what Momo is though. It was the first issue published around 1998.

To be continued into 3/4.